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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The New Woman

A Storms Approaching, 2012, Sally Edelstein
Women in the Arts
Many, whom we might term "history challenged," tend to think of "The Feminist Movement" sometimes termed the "Women's Movement," or in slang, "Women's Lib," as a product of the 1970s when female baby boomers came of age and hit the streets in mass numbers. Even many women today think in terms of such a limited perspective. Those giving the matter a bit more thought might hearken back to the "Women's Suffrage Movement" in the U.S. which resulted in women gaining the right to vote in 1920. But so-called "Women's Rights" did not just happen overnight. Though there was some American movement in that direction during the late 1800s, mostly it all began to take shape after the turn of the century. The year 1900 is a convenient place to start. In terms of the arts, there had long been women artists, always painting in the shadow of their male counterparts and hardly even noted by art historians until it became socially incumbent upon them to do so in the past fifty years. Although women from all walks of life and virtually all professions (with the possible exception of urologists) had a part in this revolution, it's safe to say women artists were in the forefront demanding gender equality.
Wilhelmina Weber Furlong ca. 1910
I think this is a painting by Wilhelmina
Weber Furlong, but the signature is
indistinct and her work is virtually
invisible on line.
Working women in the field of illustration such as Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Rose O'Neill, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Violet Oakley often found themselves manning the battle lines during this period. Of course the "war" didn't end with the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Two real wars had an impact as well. Any number of women painters could be cited as having been important in trying to gain for their gender an equal standing in the arts. One in particular, Wilhelmina Weber Furlong stands apart from the others. She was the wife of Thomas Furlong, who was an unexceptional Realist painter of murals born in 1886, making him eight years younger than his wife (born in 1878). Both were active with New York's Art Students League where Wilhelmina had been a student during the 1890s. Her husband taught at New York University.
Jackson Pollock and wife, Lee Krasner, another Modernist couple from the early days.
Weber Furlong (as she came to be known) further stands apart as an artists because of her affiliation with the American Modernist movement, first Impressionism, then Expressionism, and finally, after the death of her husband in 1952, Abstract Expressions. As anyone familiar with the New York School before and after its rise to prominence in the postwar era knows, it was (especially in the early, formative years) overwhelmingly, unabashedly, exceedingly, excessively MALE. There were a few exceptions, especially among the second generation of the movement (above), but in the beginning, Weber Furlong was pretty much alone. Her impact and influence was not so much in what she painted but in what she taught...for fifty-six years. She and her husband established an artist colony in upstate New York in 1921 near Bolton Landing, which they called Golden Heart Farm (below). There they entertained the likes of John Graham, Willem de Kooning, David Smith, Dorothy Dehner, Jean Charlot, Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder, Rockwell and Sally Kent, Thomas Hart Benton, Allen Tucker, Max Weber (no relation), and Kimon Nicolaidies. Artists came and went. Some taught, some were taught. Weber Furlong died in 1962, as did her Bolton Landing artists' colony. Nonetheless, the Furlong's Golden Heart Farm was what we might call the "incubator" for the Modernist movement in the U.S.

Thomas and Weber Furlong's Golden Heart Farm, 1921, Bolton Landing, New York


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